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Summary:

Hyperlocal used to be a popular buzzword in media circles, but NBC says it has shut down one of the pioneers of the genre — data-driven startup EveryBlock — because it wasn’t a good fit with its core strengths.

Not long ago, “hyperlocal” was the buzzword of the day in the digital media business, and a number of major media entities — including the New York Times and AOL — either acquired or started their own efforts in that direction. Now one of the pioneers of that movement has been abruptly shut down: NBC announced on Thursday that it has closed the doors on EveryBlock, the hyperlocal startup it inherited when it took full control of MSNBC last year, and the site has gone dark.

The broadcaster’s former partnership with Microsoft acquired EveryBlock in 2009 for what sources said at the time was “several million dollars” — two years after it was founded by developer/journalist Adrian Holovaty with a $1-million grant from the Knight Foundation, one of the first winners of the now-annual Knight News Challenge (the original code for the project remains open source, as required by the terms of the grant).

NBC chief digital officer Vivian Schiller told the Poynter Institute that the project was a “wonderful scrappy business,” but didn’t make sense as part of the company’s growth strategy. In a memo to staff, she said EveryBlock provided an engaging user experience, but wasn’t a good fit with NBC’s core strengths (she also pointed out that the media company still owns and operates a former news startup called Breaking News, which it acquired in 2010). Said Schiller:

“As we continue to grow and evolve the NBC News Digital portfolio, we are focused on investing in content, products and platforms that play to our core strengths. The decision to shut down the site was difficult, but in the end, we didn’t see a strategic fit for EveryBlock within the portfolio.”

In a blog post, Holovaty — who wrote a seminal essay on the use of data in journalism in 2006, and created some of the earliest data-driven projects at the Washington Postsaid that he was saddened by the news, and added on Twitter that looking through some of the comments about its demise was like “attending my own funeral.” Holovaty left EveryBlock last year, and said at the time that he expected the company to be around for “a long, long time.”

EveryBlock started as an automated news aggregator that pulled in data from local feeds and databases, similar to what Holovaty’s ChicagoCrime.org project did, but the site pivoted somewhat in 2011 to focus more on human contributions and community. Other hyperlocal efforts, including the New York Times’ local experiment, have either been shut down or downsized significantly, and AOL’s Patch is also rumored to be undergoing cuts.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Karen Gentry

  1. Reblogged this on Rational Arrogance and commented:
    It obvious that many traditional media, and marketing people, just don’t get it when it comes to social media… Perhaps they are still trying to figure out how many Facebook-likes it takes to make up a hundred dollar?….

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  2. “Hyperlocal”. Yet one word continues to remain, “hypermedia”, although in this decade with a very different meaning than originally intended.

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  3. Hyperlocal ventures cannot generate the ever larger required numbers of pageviews that advertising revenues require. The potential number of readers is in the tens of thousands or less. Everyblock was almost 100% computer collated and generated and that was too costly, so what hope for reporter based hyperlocal publications?

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    1. The problem is the whole notion of advertising based revenue, which is really a remnant of the linear newspaper world. The future for revenue generation online is rather in transactions. This could have easily sustained a hyperlocal site, but NBC does not think this way.

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  4. Yes, the current Internet advertising model isn’t particularly friendly to local publications. But data streams do not makes themselves into narratives. A bunch of computer-gathered facts are not a story. Everyblock failed because what it provided really wasn’t all that interesting on a continuous basis.

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